Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Raging Whaling Debate - Things You Need to Know and Things You Can Do

The whaling debate is heating up after the activist ship Ady Gil belonging to the Sea Shepherd was hit by a Japanese whaling vessel causing a 2 meter hole in the ship's bow. The incident occurred approximately 1300 nautical miles south of Tasmania yesterday afternoon. The Ady Gil was "deliberately rammed" by a Japanese vessel according to a statement released by the Sea Shepherd, while the Ady Gil was stationary, causing "catastrophic damage" to the $2 million ship and the need to rescue the six crew members from the sinking vessel.

This isn't the first time that tensions have escalated in the Antarctic region between Japanese whaling vessels and environmentalist groups such as the Sea Shepherd. "We now have a real whale war on our hands and we have no intention of retreating," said Paul Watson, leader of the organisation.

And war it is! The Japanese are calling on the Australian government to curb the Sea Shepherd's antics. In fact the Japanese's so-called 'scientific whaling program' the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) are accusing the Australian government of neglecting it's international obligations to "curb the Sea Shepherd's hazardous operations."

The Japanese senior Opposition MP Shigeru Ishiba called for international criminal action to be taken against Sea Shepherd vessels: “Sea Shepherd should be considered in the same way as pirates so that we can arrest them in international waters”.

You can view the collision which was captured on film here and read the articles here:

VIDEO: Ady Gil gets rammed

Scientific study has shown that cetaceans display pack behaviours that are very human. It has been proved that whales have the ability to learn and the ability to feel pain. This is one of the main reasons countries like Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Britain find the idea of whaling is barbaric. Not to mention the idea of consuming or using products that come from a sentient mammal such as the whale being morally abhorrent.

Unfortunately, this opinion is not internationally held. Countries, led by Japan, Norway and Iceland are openly pro-whaling nations in the International Whaling Commission (IWC), making international laws to regulate whaling practices almost impossible to create and enforce, since international laws require voluntary compliance of the nation states.

The IWC which was established by the International Conservation for the Regulation of Whaling in 1948 had as it's main objective the prohibition of commercial whaling, with their role basically being to preserve whale stock for future generations of whaling. Over the years however, there has been a growing debate between and the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as well as the World Trade Organization (WTO) on how to deal appropriately in the management of cetaceans as the global concern has turned towards the protection of whales as opposed the conservation of whales for future use.

Unfortunately, by the 1970s the lack of coordination between the International Organisations (IOs) resulted in a new body called the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) whose role it was to synchronize the environmental focus of the international community.

The IWC meet annually to discuss issues relating to the conservation of whales. The one thing that characterizes the annual meetings of the IWC is the division between pro-whaling nations, led by Japan, and anti-whaling nations.

In recent years the pro-whaling nations have grown in strength with Japan being accused of bribing smaller developing nations to vote with them. In reply, Japan and other pro-whaling states argue that the continued commercial ban on whaling imposed by the IWC is no longer required as the Scientific Committee from whom the IWC get advice has stated that whales have research a sustainable level to commence whaling again. Plus, the IWC faces continued problems from whalers who operate outside the IWCs rules, because international regulations and laws require voluntary compliance.

At its inception the IWC was granted jurisdiction over all waters where whaling is undertaken, including the High Seas and they were given the power to fix closed waters and could, therefore, establish international whaling sanctuaries. The first sanctuary was established in Antarctica - where the collision between Shonan Maru No. 2 and the Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil occurred yesterday afternoon.

Australia is one of the nations that considers itself at the forefront of the anti-whaling nations, which include the US, New Zealand and Britain. Australia is a signatory of many treaties that bind us to the conservation of the environment, including the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the Antarctic Treaty. Part of our role includes the protection of whales within the Australian Whale Sanctuary (AWS) off the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT), not far from where the Japanese vessel collided with the Ady Gil.

In fact, in 2007, the Full Federal Court of Australia gave the Humane Society International leave to serve originating proceedings on Kyodo Senpaky Kaisha Ltd for unlawfully killing approximately 385 Antarctic Minke whales in AAT. In 1999 the Australian Government enacted the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act which allows us to protect whales within the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

But what are we doing now that the Japanese whalers are just off the coast? We're "investigating" the incident of the collision, but refusing to send any protection for the Sea Shepherds doing the job of the Australian government in protecting the whales within our waters. At least Federal Opposition environment spokesman, Greg Hunt is calling on the Government to send out a non-military observation vessel to the Southern Ocean to monitor the situation.

"It is a time for a immediate dispatch of a non-military observer vessel to protect and also to capture and chronicle the slaughter of Australian whales in Australian waters," he says.

ANU professor of international law, Don Rothwell supports the Opposition's call: "These are Australian waters - Australia claims these waters - and this has been a major maritime incident that had occurred within those waters. There are significant safety of life at sea implications and indeed Australia has responsibility for safety of life at sea within these waters."

If anyone is interested in getting involved there are things that you can do without having to brave the Antarctic ocean on a tiny vessel and get pelted by water cannons. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has a section on How to Get Involved including the options to Adopt a Dolphin or Adopt an Orca, online petitions, fundraisers and volunteering opportunities. The World Society for the Protection of Animals runs similar programs and works in conjunction with the IWC to help increase awareness of whales and thereby encourage a globalised approach towards the protection of our cetaceans.

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